Wednesday, April 1, 2020

An emergency room doctor in Philadelphia, was optimistic when she brought a sex discrimination claim against the medical practice that terminated her. Colleagues respected the doctor, and she had glowing evaluations and support that the group had a pattern of not giving women partnerships.

However, the court forced her into private arbitration.  A corporate lawyer, not a judge, handled her arbitration, and when the doctor showed up for one hearing, she noticed the arbitrator having a friendly coffee with someone who headed the defendant. 

During the arbitration proceedings, the medical group withheld important evidence, and there was allegedly also spoliation of evidence.  When the arbitrator decided against the doctor, his ruling had verbatim content from legal briefs prepared by lawyers for the medical group. 

The emergency doctor who sued confronted an uneven playing field.  Once in arbitration, the arbitrator gave the plaintiff a weekend to review hundreds of records the defense originally withheld.  When the doctor’s lawyers asked the arbitrator to impose sanctions on the defense for breaking the discovery rules and destroying evidence, the arbitrator fined the defense $1,000, and billed the doctor $2,000 for the time it took him to investigate.

The doctor ended up in debt, and is still paying off $200,000 in legal costs seven years after the legal battle.  If the doctor’s case had been decided in civil court, the doctor would have been able to appeal, raising issues on testimony, evidence destruction, and potential conflicts of interest.

Arbitration, an alternative to civil court, tends to favor businesses.  Fact finders are replaced by arbitrators who usually consider the companies their clients, The New York Times reported. Arbitration proceedings are confidential.  Since the federal government does not require cases to be reported, the secretive nature makes it hard to determine how fair the proceedings are.  To deliver favorable outcomes to companies, some arbitrators disregard the law, including evidence rules.

Usually people are forced to arbitration at the beginning of a relationship by contract.  An employee may sign an employment agreement at the beginning of employment when the relationship is upbeat, and a person is not aware of what arbitration entails. 

A patient may sign a contract containing an arbitration clause before going into surgery, believing the surgery will go smoothly, and the patient will unlikely have anything to file suit on.  By example, the relatives of a 94-year-old woman at a nursing home in Murrysville, Pa., who died from a head wound, was ordered to go to arbitration.

Tens of millions of Americans have lost their day in court (a fundamental right) when they sign contracts with arbitration clauses without reading. At stake are claims of medical malpractice, elder abuse, and wrongful death The New York Times reported. By example, a hearing that lasted six hours cost the plaintiff $150,000.

Arbitration became popular in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided arbitration clauses could quash class-action lawsuits. Arbitration prevents several plaintiffs from joining to sue.  

Read the Article Here